TCP/IP is frequently held up as a model for the type of lightweight standard that libraries and affiliated communities should aim to develop. But what goes into developing a “lightweight” standard? And how long does it take?
I heard a brief interview on NPR earlier this month that marked the 25th anniversary of TCP/IP. The interview was with Vinton “Vin” Cerf, one of the two creators of TCP/IP (the other was Robert Kahn). I was amazed to hear that this lightweight standard took 10 years to develop — the first five years were spent defining requirements, and the second five years were spent implementing on a variety of systems.
This interview got me thinking about what goes into lightweight standards development. Part of it might be “less than perfect, good enough.” TCP/IP makes a “best effort” for delivery — the standard does not guarantee delivery of packets (although it works pretty well, there are some very small number of failures). Another lightweight component is scope — the standard is scoped to do a small thing, not everything. Yet another aspect is design. Something small must be well designed, which takes time.
Hopefully as we are looking towards new standards being designed (or towards the retooling and redesign of existing standards), it will not take as long as 10 years. After all, we now have TCP/IP to speed our work along! But good standards specification and development does take time.
Vin Cerf is currently Vice President and “Chief Internet Evangelist” at Google.